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International Day of the Girl Child: COVID-19 and Gender Inequality

Last month, UN Women released their Progress on the SDGs: The gender snapshot 2021 report, presenting the latest data on gender equality across all 17 goals. The report indicates that what little progress had been made in recent years in to close the gap for girls has been regressed due to COVID-19.

Pre-pandemic, girls and women already faced additional barriers to healthcare and education compared to their male counterparts, and while COVID-19 has been difficult for everyone, it has exacerbated the situation for women and girls in vulnerable communities.

Lockdowns and increased poverty meant girls were the first to be pulled out of school, leaving them more vulnerable to food insecurity, domestic violence, forced marriage, early pregnancy and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). COVID also disrupted access to healthcare clinics for women, leaving them without social support systems such as antenatal programmes.

Staggering statistics about the impacts of COVID-19 on girls and women:

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, up to 1 million girls may drop out of school due to pregnancy during the COVID-19 crisis
  • 245 million women and girls aged 15 years and older were subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in 2020
  • 200+ million women and girls in 31 countries have undergone FGM. In half the countries with available data, the majority were cut before age 5. UNICEF predicts that 2 million additional cases of FGM are likely to occur over next decade due to COVID-19
  • A one-year delay in programmes to end child marriage, coupled with the pandemic-caused economic downturn, could result in 13 million additional child marriages taking place over the next decade

Community education and awareness is vital to stopping harmful traditional practices in vulnerable communities. HPIC’s Women’s and Children’s Health programme aims to increase access to healthcare for girls and women through community education and awareness campaigns and gift-in-kind medical donations to help create a brighter future for girls.

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